The name Jan de Bont might not ring a bell to a lot of people, but chances are you’re familiar with his work. Throughout the 80’s and early 90’s, he established himself as a capable cinematographer through films like Die Hard, The Hunt for Red October, Flatliners, and Basic Instinct. In 1994, he made his directorial debut with Speed, a landmark blockbuster that made an action star out of Keanu Reeves and established Sandra Bullock as a leading name in Hollywood.
After the success he experienced with Speed, de Bont went to the heartlands to direct the storm chaser Twister. The film grossed nearly 500 million at the worldwide box office, and enabled de Bont to choose whatever project he wanted. Rather than go with an original property, he choose to return to the franchise where he got his start to direct Speed 2: Cruise Control.
With a whopping 160 million dollar budget, the flick represented a huge gamble on the part of the studio compared to the modest 30 million dollar budget of the original. Despite seeing the return of Sandra Bullock, the film floundered at the worldwide box office, only grossing 165 million worldwide. It was a huge flop, and killed the franchise dead in its tracks. Now, nearly 20 years on, it’s time to look back to figure out exactly why it has become such a hated sequel.
The film opens with a high-speed chase through the L.A. hills, as Alex Shaw (played by Jason Patric) pursue a delivery truck for an unknown reason. Interchanged through the chase is returning starlet Sandra Bullock (Annie) attempting to regain her license. As their paths cross at the end of the chase, Annie is shocked to discover that the person she thought was a quiet beach cop in Malibu was actually a daring member of the S.W.A.T. team. Determined to woo her graces once more, Alex invites Annie on a cruise to the Caribbean, which she reluctantly accepts.
From here the film cuts to the Seabourn Legend, a Norwegian cruise liner set for St. Martin. Our happy couple embark along with the other passengers before the ship sets sail. Once on-board, they meet Geiger, played by instantaneous bad guy Willem Dafoe, as well as every other principal cast member of the film. The boat casts off, and away we go.
Well into the film, Geiger takes control of the ship and forces the crew to evacuate most of the passengers. Those remaining are set on a collision course with an oil tanker. Alex makes several failed attempts to stop the boat, but manages at the last minute to veer it off course to avoid collision with the tanker. The feeling of relief is short-lived however, as the ship finds its new course heading straight into a small coastal town in St. Martin. The subsequent collision is the film’s biggest action scene, and allegedly cost 25 million dollars to film. Despite its age, the practical and visual effects still hold up, so the scene still looks quite spectacular.
Safely docked inside the city, Alex sets off after Geiger who kidnapped Annie earlier in the film. He hijacks a local man’s boat, whom interestingly is the same man which got his car hijacked in Speed, and begins his chase. After catching up with Geiger and Annie, he rescues his beloved and they narrowly escape the plane. Without a hostage, Geiger crashes into the same oil tanker he had plotted for the Seabourn Legend to collide with earlier in the film. While surviving his initial collision, his plane sparks fire, causing the entire oil tanker to blow up.
Hearing the plot summarized like that makes the film sound like a standard action flick. It’s a by-the-numbers blockbuster, so why is this film so despised? As of this review, it is sitting at a 3.7 on IMDB, a Metascore of 23, and only 3% on Rotten Tomatoes. The film only earned 165 million worldwide, while the original earned 350 million with only 1/5 of the budget.
The biggest reason for audiences malice towards the film is its failure to live up to expectation. Fans of the first flick went in expecting a high-octane thrill ride from start to finish that could rival the original. Instead they got a methodical slow-burning action thriller more interested in showing you how the villain achieved his goal, than filling the movie with meaningful set pieces. The predictability of its character arcs adds to this issue. If you want to have a slow-burning film, the likely path of your characters needs to be hidden. If you populate your movie with action archetypes, it is hard to keep your audience engaged through a methodical build-up as they will uncover your reveal right away.
There are other issues as well of course, but most of those are simply standard rationality issues with blockbuster action flicks. Like why didn’t they just turn the ship away from the harbor once they realized the bow thrusters enabled them to steer? Or why didn’t they use flares to warn the oil tanker that they couldn’t steer earlier on? Or why would Geiger evacuate the ship if he was willing to kill the remaining passengers by steering it into the oil tanker?
The point is, for all intents and purposes, Speed 2 is a standard action blockbuster. It has a cheesy villain with the craziest crazy eyes of all time, a solid concept, a capable cast, and some cool action sequences. Unfortunately, it had to follow one of the greatest action flicks of the 90’s, and no amount of crazy eyes will drag it up to that level. People hate it cause they feel cheated out of something as creative as the original. If it’d been released under the name Cruise Control, it likely would’ve fared a lot better.